Think back to the days when the movie The Apartment was filmed, with Jack Lemmon’s character, an insurance executive, walked past aisles of desks in a gigantic room, with workers diligently tapping away at adding machines.
Of course, today’s insurance companies don’t look anything remotely close to that 1960-era company. And tomorrow’s digital insurance company will even resemble it less. But maybe in some ways, they aren’t so far apart – consider how the 1960 employees were heads-down, all wedded to their adding machines. Perhaps today’s insurance company employees wedded to their devices in the sane way?
Technology may be changing the way jobs are performed, and may be creating and eliminating many jobs – but ultimately, work is more than technology. This was a key point raised by Alan Lepofsky, futurist and analyst with Constellation Research. Lepofsky explored the future of work in a recent episode of CXOTalk, hosted by with Michael Krigsman.
One important aspect to the future of work is that it won’t look like the Jetsons, any more than it will resemble the workroom in the insurance company featured in The Apartment. Technology – the devices, platforms and clouds that make things run – are merely tools, Lepofsky emphasizes. “Employees don’t go to work to be social or to be a hologram. They go to work to do sales, or marketing, or engineer, or finance. The future of work is still functionally job based.”
With the exception of cloud, a lot of the impact wrought by technology is intangible or behind the scenes, Lepofsky explains. “The average user doesn’t get the importance of cloud,” he says. “They don’t know if the company’s infrastructure is hosted on premises or hosted in the cloud.” What matters is if the user is getting the information they want, when they want it.
No matter how many tools get introduced to workflows – there will always be a need for human judgement, oversight, and, most importantly, imagination. Processes are “not going to be fully automated,” Lepofsky says. Devices are “not going to be responding for you, and they’re not going to be doing your job for you. Computers are not going to take over.” Instead, computers and devices will serve as adjuncts to human decision-makers, extending capabilities. “Imagine if you could prioritize your inbox or prioritize your calendar based on far more information that you can kind of mentally do on your own.”
Running a successful company comes down to leadership and innovation – not just piling on technology, Lepofsky says. Too many companies make that mistake, he explains. “Humans don’t want to be a cog in the machine. If you make their lives, their jobs, their success, their reward, their recognition better, they’re going to be more efficient and effective employees. Putting the tools in place to do that is important. Culture and tools need to be driven by purpose.”
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